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Proactive approach works best in child welfare cases

By Staff


Parents involved with children’s services should avoid reacting in haste, as that often inflames an already stressful situation, Alberta child protection specialist Melani Carefoot tells

Instead, says Carefoot, owner and principal of Positive Choices Counselling, those under investigation would be better served by taking a proactive approach to addressing the issues child welfare agencies have identified as problematic.

“You have to understand the power child services have to uncover issues about you and your family. They work closely with police, schools and health-care organizations, and can access almost everything in the course of their investigation.

“But there are ways to empower yourself,” she says.

Children are removed from their primary caregivers under a variety of circumstances, but in each case it’s up to the parents to either disprove the allegations or demonstrate they have addressed the problems that led to the apprehension, says Carefoot.

“People often feel angry and powerless in this situation, but parents can take steps on their own steam to improve their chances of having their kids returned,” she says.

“You should register for parenting classes or explore treatment options if addiction is an issue. It’s also important to ask for support from friends and family because whether you like it or not, children’s services is going to get everyone involved.”

If the agency makes contact — either by phone or in person — it’s imperative that parents co-operate, and not avoid them, Carefoot says.

“Many people want to run and hide, but the optics of that aren’t good. They will pursue you and the outcome is more likely to be less favourable,” she says.

Bombarding a caseworker with numerous requests for updates on a file is a common mistake, but Carefoot says it’s important to remember that social workers are stretched thin and don’t have time to respond to a barrage of emails or phone calls.

“It can be helpful to have a professional create a plan for communicating with the caseworker so you’re being as effective as possible. That way, you can ensure you’re including only the relevant facts and are being respectful. And don’t send it at 3 a.m. after you drink a bottle of wine,” she says.

In that same vein, Carefoot says once a meeting is set with a caseworker, parents should prioritize the three or four topics they want to discuss, rather than going in without a strategy.

“If the worker gives you an hour, but you have a list of 15 things, you’re going to be frustrated. Decide what you want to address at that meeting and prepare in advance,” she says.

Also ask the caseworker for their specific concerns and how you can mitigate them or reduce the risk to your children, Carefoot says.

“Too many times, the worker says, ‘We’re concerned for your children’s safety,’ but as the parent, you need to know their particular concerns, whether that’s sexual abuse, physical violence or something else.

“You should also ask for referrals to services — domestic violence counselling, substance abuse assessments, parenting classes — and request funding. There’s often a wait list for publicly funded programs, so if you have the means, pay for the programs yourself as it will expedite the process of getting your children back.”

Carefoot also advises parents to request a service plan that outlines the tasks that need to be completed and any behavioural changes that children’s services want to see to indicate when your children can be returned to your care — specifics are important.

“Often it’s not clear what they need to see — 16 weeks of anger management, no police reports, better communication in the home?

“You should also be clear on how the caseworker wants you to communicate your successes and accomplishments toward the outlined goals,” she says.

Carefoot points out that while enlisting the support of an appropriate friend or family member can improve the situation for parents dealing with children’s services, a bad choice can have the opposite effect.

“In one file I was working on, the dad was in jail and a relative was trying to get guardianship of his kids, but she brought her neighbour to court, and this person was loud and not very educated. She didn’t help the situation.

“You may need a paid advocate or support from a community professional such as a public health nurse or the child’s teacher,” Carefoot says.